Saturday, December 15, 2012

10 Thoughts: WPFW

Once again tensions have boiled to the surface among listeners, announcers, staff, and management over upcoming program changes announced for Washington's WPFW 89.3 FM.  The non-commercial station and long-time voice of 'jazz and justice' in D.C. has seemingly operated for years on the brink of collapse as its parent company -- the Pacifica Foundation -- asserted more influence over programming and operations with individual affiliates.  Pacifica's finances are also shaky for reasons I believe to be largely self-inflicted.  However, it's individuals actively involved with WPFW who are mostly responsible for the station's predicament.  As I write this op-ed, there are rival factions within the station defined by complex and sometimes overlapping racial and ideological lines busily circling their respective wagons in response to the latest changes.

I'm reluctant to take a side in this internecine squabble because a) people I know on both sides of the issue are making valid arguments, b) I don't have the authority or inclination to act as arbitrator or mediator, and c) first-hand experience with WPFW instructs me not to volunteer solutions for a hot mess.  Nevertheless, I've compiled a brief list of my initial reactions to the station's latest melodrama: 
  • WPFW retains enough autonomy to address its challenges
  • the station's culture is dysfunctional
  • the amount of programming devoted to local issues continues to steadily and precipitously decline
  • Pacifica appears to be making station policy contrary to its core principles
  • the station's management and station board members lack imagination and nerve, if not tact
  • station resources are vastly underutilized
  • the new schedule's evening jazz programming is an improvement
  • its listener base is aging, shrinking, and contributing less.
  • many of WPFW's 'publics' (volunteers, listeners, artists, etc.) put personal agendas ahead of the best interests of the station or its community of license
  • the ongoing strife at WPFW symbolizes in the U.S., 'public' stations aren't so public; 'progressive' media isn't always progressive.